In the airless terminal, we wait. We’ve hit a pocket of weather, the kind that lets the flights before ours and after ours take off on time. It’s the worst kind of delay, the kind that singles you out, that obliterates any chance of impromptu airport camaraderie. The nods to moms holding screaming babies are less than sympathetic.
The destination is Miami, which means that we’re all wearing in-between clothes, coats of the wrong weight for both where we are and where we’re going. We’ll swelter when we land, but for now, we freeze.
I buy a pair of fuzzy socks at Hudson News that don’t go with my shoes. Stuffed into them, my feet look like they belong to a polar bear, or like I have developed a skin disease. I don’t regret them, or the $10, for an instant, because they have bought me a few precious moments of comfort, one sensation that is not sticky or grimy or too dry or lit with pasty yellow florescents.
It’s not that we’re family or dear in other ways. We’re colleagues traveling to a work meeting. So it’s not like sleeping on a shoulder is an option. We read magazines. We watch as the life wane in our phone and laptop batteries. We don’t touch each other. We share few common stories, except for the ones that involve our day-to-day in the skyscraper, and no one wants to talk about those.
After four hours, I decide that I need to walk. Matt and Helen and I walk to Brookstone, to see what buzzing things can distract us for a precious few moments, can make the waiting bearable. Outside the store, something hovers in the air. Silent, none of us can take our eyes off it—a flat black disc as big as a pizza, floating four feet off the ground in the center of the corridor.
“What the hell is that?”
“A space ship.”
“I bet you can buy it at Brookstone.”
The Parrot A.R. Drone Quadricoptor uses gyroscopes to retain stability in flight. It has built-in wifi that allows it to be controlled using an iPhone, and onboard cameras stream video so you can play “augmented reality” games that make it look like there’s a military skirmish in your living room. It costs $300.
The store clerk who is using it when we pass by is a kid. The look of delight on this face is unmistakable.
There are ultralight suitcases and ergonomic pillows and digital cameras that are James Bond-like in their tininess and sleekness. The only thing I consider—a pair of socks made out of some kind of technologically-advanced chenille—is beyond my target price point.
We leave, unsure of whether we had real intentions of buying anything in the first place. The magazine store is a better bet.
The travel magazines are shoved in a back corner next to the art and photography magazines and the porn, all of it bagged up and blacked out for safety. I waver between Travel + Leisure and a magazine called Islands. Both have palm trees on their covers. The headlines, in canary yellow, promise secret paradise. I finally dismiss both and settle on a practical Budget Travel—although even that is awash in palm trees (Feature story: Hidden Caribbean). I choose another, Afar, that’s larger format and printed on beautiful matte paper and pimping a story about Barcelona. The Gaudis on the cover—wiggly as phantoms—say nothing about the actual story, which is about seafood, but I am hungry for elsewhere, for anything as tall and concrete and blowing in the open air as a palm tree.
Back at the gate, I read about a place called Eluthera, a word so beautiful that it almost tastes good to say it. Allison tells a story about going to Anguilla once, about a seaside mansion in a place that no one can get to.
I flip a page. I rub my fuzzy toes together, unconcerned at this point that my work colleagues are seeing me in my socks. They are also seeing my in-between self, the best and the worst of it, the time before leaving and before getting back.